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How a Work Related Back Injury Affected More Than My Health

We all get old at some point. Here's how to get there safely.

I had always known of the safety regulations at work—watching those boring videos about onsite safety and procedures. It wasn't until I experienced my own work-related back injury that I realized the importance of lifting heavy things safely.

At the time, I was working for an oil company. Most of my work was on a forklift, so when the company gave me a back brace to wear during work hours, the first thought was, "Why do I need this? I drive a forklift all day."

Usually, the oil barrels were on pallets. But there were times when they were simply on the warehouse floor. And this is where the company failed to implement safety procedures to ensure manual lifting of heavy objects was diminished. This meant forklift drivers would have to find a pallet and place the 50-gallon barrels of oil on the pallets by hand. It was kind of a macho thing for us to do back then. We did this by tipping the barrels over half way and rolling them on their edges and tipping them onto the pallet. Seemed pretty easy. I would soon learn a valuable lesson about not paying attention to those training videos.

One day, as usual, there were a certain number of oil barrels that had not been placed directly on the pallets. I could have called one of my co-workers for assistance, but I chose to handle the issue alone, and without my back brace. When I went to tip the barrel over slightly, I hadn't noticed that the floor was slightly slippery from oil residue, which caused me to slip and lose my grip on the 300-pound barrel of oil. In a split second, I was fearful that the barrel would tip all the way over and that oil would spill everywhere. Before I knew it, a very sharp pain shot through my lower back causing me to fold over in pain, the barrel of oil tipping over completely.

Fortunately, the seal on the oil barrel was good enough that it kept the oil from spilling out or leaking all over the place. Nevertheless, I could barely get up. I ended up having to take an ambulance ride to the hospital, where I spent a night and half of a day. I went home in a wheelchair. For about four weeks or so I was unable to walk without assistance. Even until this very day, when I get up in the morning, I find it easier to simply lie in bed. Of course the pain is not as bad as it once was; nonetheless, it is still there, reminding me daily of how being macho affected my quality of life.

I never had to get surgery. But I was given some tips from my doctor on how to heal my back the best I could without going under the knife. Below I have shared some steps in getting your lower back back in shape.

Get Plenty of Rest

It sucks. Nevertheless, when your back is injured, it is imperative that you get plenty of rest. When your back is strained, the ligaments or muscles around the injured area are usually inflamed. Subjecting the injury to further strenuous activity can irritate the inflammation. This is why rest is very important. So, get the Netflix fired up and settle down for a week or so.

Apply Ice or Heat Packs

As touched on above, most back pain is accompanied by inflammation. Applying an ice or heat pack can reduce this inflammation and relieve some of your discomforts. You may have to try both to see which one works best. I personally found ice didn't help as much as heat, but it depends from person to person.

Heat will cause the blood vessels to dilate. This helps blood get to the area easier, promoting healing. On the other hand, cold decreases the size of the blood vessels. This, in turn, restricts the blood flow. This often times lessens inflammation. This method can be more painful in the beginning (hence why I chose not to use a cold pack) but it helps ease deeper pain.

Try Some Over-the-Counter Inflammatory Pills

The first thing people who are suffering from back pain try is pills. But not all pills are designed to deal with the special issue of back pain. Aspirin and Tylenol never helped me in the slightest. You should first try some over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). If these don't help, ask your doctor if he/she is willing to subscribe something slightly stronger.

Do Some Exercise

Exercise is the key to fixing most health issues. Back pain is no different. Just be sure not to do anything that involves extraneous lifting. These are a few exercises that helped my back get stronger after my injury.

  • Partial crunches not only help strengthen your abs but it can help heal your lower back.
  • Hamstring stretches are great for giving a slight stretch to your legs while loosening up your lower back as well.
  • Wall sits are great for increasing leg back strength.
  • Press-up back extensions are a nice way to stretch your lower back.
  • The bird-dog stretch gives your back a mild workout without overworking it.

After my injury at work, I was put into another position that didn't have the pay grade of my previous one. Furthermore, I ended up losing that job due to retaliation from my boss and the HR department in a battle to get their insurance company to pay for my injuries. Their claim was that, because I didn't use the back brace, I was at fault for my back injuries. Though my back is much better than it was back then, I assume that this injury will only begin to rear its ugly head ever more often as I am getting older.

Our health is something that must be cared for. Though working is a vital part of our life, we should never sacrifice our health for a paycheck. Take it from me and take care of your health.

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